Stiller's 'Thunder' Under Fire From Disability Groups

Coalition boycotts 'Tropic Thunder' for film's use of the R-word.

ByABC News
August 11, 2008, 8:00 PM

Aug. 12, 2008— -- Ben Stiller's new movie "Tropic Thunder," which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in, is supposed to be a send-up of actors who will go to any lengths to advance their careers.

But a coalition of disabilities groups believes the comic actor went too far with the film's repeated use of what they call the r-word, or "retard," when referring to the character Simple Jack, whom Stiller portrays in a subplot.

The coalition of 22 groups, including the Special Olympics, the Arc of the United States and the National Down Syndrome Congress, launched a nationwide boycott of the film -- which opens for wide release Wednesday -- at Monday's premiere in Los Angeles. Stars Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black walked down a red carpet past dozens of protestors and picket signs that read "Ban the movie, ban the word."

"This population remains the defenseless butt of jokes all throughout media," said Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver, who has not yet seen the movie. "We think it's time to end."

Chip Sullivan, a spokesman for DreamWorks, a unit of Paramount that released the film, defended the R-rated comedy in a statement on Sunday, saying that it "satirizes Hollywood and its excesses, and makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the top characters in ridiculous situations."

He added, "The film is in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities."

"I think it's open to interpretation and that's the great thing," Robert Downey Jr., who stars in the film, told APTN at the Monday night premiere. "You know, if I want to protest something because it offends me that's my right as an American, and it's also any artist's right to say and do whatever they wanna do."

The Simple Jack character is part of a film within a film. Stiller's character Speedman, an aging action movie star, chases after an Oscar by portraying a dim farmhand, complete with bowl haircut and bucked teeth, who stutters and talks to farm animals.